The legacy of Jesse Owens, the celebrated track star of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, has been memorialized on the walls of the Overtown Youth Center.
Community leaders and students met on Monday at the center for the unveiling of a mural honoring Owens.
Tina Brown, the center’s executive director, says the three-week project was brought to life through a collaboration of students, the center’s resident artist, Johnnie Bess and elementary arts coordinator Rodney Royal.
Bess, a former art teacher at Theodore R. and Thelma A. Gibson Charter School, came to the center in the summer of 2013.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“The main point we worked off was Jesse Owens’ accomplishments in the 1936 Olympic Games,” Bess said. “We asked ourselves, ‘How can we use the symbolism of his life to inspire people?’”
Owens, the focus of an upcoming biographical film called Race, dispelled the notion of racial inequality in the United States and in Europe, where Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party posited German “Aryans” as the master race. He won four gold medals in 1936.
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado told the crowd that his late grandfather would tell him stories about Owens’ accomplishments in 1936.
“Jessie Owens doesn’t just belong to the African American community — he belongs to everyone,” Regalado said to the crowd.
The mayor added that the youth center’s venture in promoting black history education in the community has been a success since 2003.
“The Overtown Youth Center was a game-changer for Overtown when it opened,” Regalado said.
Ferin Richardson, the center’s community and program events coordinator, said the mural wasn’t just an arts project but an educational one, as well.
“The students worked on this for a while and they learned about Jesse Owens throughout the whole project,” Richardson said. “They were learning about [Owens] throughout Black History Month.”
Two weeks before the painting began, Bess showed the center’s students short documentaries and articles that ended with classroom discussions.
Bess, an advocate for funding arts in public schools, says he tried to emphasized the link between art and education.
“Often times we think of the arts as expendable and they’re actually vital,” Bess said.
Kayla Yrajos, Dana Hernandez and Vincent Garcia were Bess’ students who helped throughout the project.
The students agree that projects geared toward the arts are something of which they would like to see more.
“The sun was hot, but we enjoyed it,” Kayla said. “We all love painting.”